Arctic Cowboys Jimmy Harvey

Jimmy Harvey prepares to paddle on Lady Bird Lake during the 2021 freeze in Austin, Texas. He announced this week he is dropping from the Arctic Cowboys expedition through the Northwest Passage this summer. Pam LeBlanc photo

The lineup of an Austin-based team of paddlers who will attempt to kayak the entire Northwest Passage this summer has changed.

Jimmy Harvey announced this week that he is dropping off the Arctic Cowboys expedition. That leaves expedition leader West Hansen, who paddled the entire Amazon River in 2012 and the entire Volga River in 2014, and two others – longtime expedition partner Jeff Wueste and endurance paddler Rebekah Feaster, who signed on to the Arctic trip last month.

Hansen has said he plans to launch the 1,900-mile expedition in late July, and travel from Pond Inlet in the northeast part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to Tuktoyaktuk in the southwest. Along the way, the team will likely face polar bears, orca, frigid water, and shifting ice.

Related: Arctic Cowboys add female paddler to Northwest Passage expedition

Hansen predicts that the trip will take about 60 days, finishing in late September. If the Arctic Cowboys make it, they will become the first to paddle through the entire passage in one continuous trip.

“Previous attempts to paddle or row the entire Northwest Passage from west to east were stopped by drift ice which blocked the Victoria Strait – a narrow and shallow island-clogged strait west of King William Island. These ice flows backed up north into Peel Sound and clogged the Bellot Strait, as well,” Hansen said.

Arctic Cowboys West Hansen

West Hansen, who paddled the entire Amazon River in 2012 and the Volga River two years later, paddles through Matagorda Bay in May 2020, while kayaking from South Padre Island to the Louisiana border. Pam LeBlanc photo

To avoid the same conditions, the Arctic Cowboys will start later in the season, giving that ice more time to break up, and monitor ice conditions and navigation options for those areas, Hansen said. They will travel east to west, through the more precarious areas first. That will leave the more open southerly portions of the Northwest Passage for the final leg, as winter closes the northern stretch behind them.

Harvey thinks expedition should start earlier to finish before cold sets in

But Harvey thinks the team should launch earlier, and travel the opposite direction, passing through areas where the ice breaks up early first, and reaching the colder, more frozen sections later.

“I think it’s a mistake,” Harvey said of Hansen’s proposed plan. “July and August are the two best summer months across the whole Northwest Passage.”

An expedition could conceivably make it through nearly the entire Northwest Passage, then get stopped a few hundred miles from the finish at Pond Inlet, he acknowledged.

“But with as warm as its been, it’s pretty certain it will be open this year,” Harvey says. “My theory is why wait until almost August to get on the water and miss the whole month of July? We could be finished by the end of August. September is when the weather starts getting bad – more cold fronts, and average temperatures drop.”

“(Hansen’s) worried about having a late (ice) breakup, but I’m worried about having an early winter,” Harvey said. “He could be 100 percent right and I could be 100 percent wrong or vice versa.”

Just in case Harvey changes his mind, Hansen is leaving the possibility open that he may rejoin the team at any time.

“We’ll miss Jimmy and understand his concerns about kayaking the Passage during the onset of winter weather,” Hansen said. “He’s been a strong team member with the right set of skills that would contribute to a successful expedition. There’s a slight chance he may change his mind, and if so, we’d welcome him back.”



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